Mandarin High students searched with metal detectors after 2nd threat

Text exchange suggesting possible shooting prompts increased security

By Ashley Harding - Reporter, Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A text exchange suggesting a possible shooting at Mandarin High School prompted an increase in security Friday, a day after the school was evacuated for hours because of a bomb threat posted on social media.

Principal John Kniseley sent out a robocall to parents, saying that students would be searched with metal detector wands as they entered school Friday.

Student Francesco Gonzalez said he and his classmates were caught off guard.

"I wasn’t really expecting there to be another threat today, because there was already one yesterday," Gonzalez said. "We weren’t really sure what was happening. A lot of people were upset. A lot of people were calling."

Kniseley thanked the student who alerted authorities to the text exchange but said the source of the threat had not been identified.

"We have no plans at this time to evacuate the building or anything of that nature based on the information currently available to us," Kniseley said in the message. "I can fully understand the impact these situations are having on you and your children. If you choose to be absent today, please know that with parent or guardian permission, it will be considered an excused absence."

The school's homecoming pep rally, scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, was canceled, but the football game against Sandalwood was still played at 3:30 p.m.

The person who made the threat could face the following consequences, according to the Duval County Public Schools student code of conduct:

School Wide Threat
1st Offense: 7 days out of school suspension, and principal may at his/her discretion, refer the student to hearing office 

2nd Offense: 7 days out of school suspension, and principal may at his/her discretion, refer the student to hearing office (Possible Expulsion)

Bomb Threat
1st Occurrence: 7 days out of school suspension & referred to hearing office (possible expulsion)

James Wolf, a senior at Mandarin, said the school was like "a ghost town with so many people leaving," saying classes that normally had 30 students had as few as four after the second threat this week. 

"They should have just canceled school," Wolf said. "I mean, I heard they knew about this last night."

The security change Friday came a day after students at the high school spent hours in the football stadium Thursday because of a threat that had been posted to social media.

One Mandarin mother said that she sent her child to school Friday despite Thursday’s evacuation, thinking he would be safe, but when she got the alert about the second threat, she decided to pick him up.

“I didn't like how the situation was done with the bomb threats yesterday,” Julie Feleke said.

Parents told News4Jax the students were on the field in the bleachers for about five hours, and some of the parents were frustrated. Students were released 20 minutes before the school's normal dismissal time.

Officials became aware of the bomb threat about 11 p.m. Wednesday, and a robocall from Kniseley alerted parents. The Duval County School district posted on its website:

A bomb threat specific to Mandarin High School was received earlier. Working with law enforcement partners, it was determined that the school was safe to open this morning.

Nothing dangerous was located in a search of the school before students arrived Thursday, officials said. But then the decision was made to search the school again, prompting the evacuation.

Nothing dangerous was found in the second search either.

A person of interest has been identified in the bomb threat, a district spokesperson said.

Sky4 few over the stadium Thursday and captured video of someone being put on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. A spokesperson for the Duval County School District confirmed at least one person was hospitalized.

A school district representative confirmed Friday that some students were incorrectly charged for lunch Thursday during the evacuation and that they would be reimbursed.

Some students who had been off campus for a field trip were not allowed to return Thursday and were held at a nearby elementary school during the evacuation.

Dr. Tracy Pierce, with DCPS, said the district acknowledged Thursday's mistakes and will use those as a learning experience moving forward.

"The process of re-clearing that building went much longer than we expected it to, which is why it led to the prolonged time on the football field and what became... quite an unpleasant time out there," Pierce said. "We apologize for that."

He said the district will handle things differently if faced with the same situation.

"We'll be better at our communication," Pierce said. "We'll be better at our response, and we will be better at our logistics if anything like this were to happen again in the future."

In a call to parents, Superintendent Diana Greene apologized on behalf of the school district.

Hello parents of Mandarin High School. This is School Superintendent Diana Greene.

I wanted to call and acknowledge that today was a stressful day for all in the Mandarin High School community, and I want to apologize to you and to your children that things did not go as smoothly as we would have preferred them to go. 

In such situations, it is often difficult to anticipate how events will unfold. 

We have already conducted a debriefing with staff, and we realize there were key places throughout the situation where we should have done better.

I do want to commend the teachers, students and school administration at the school. Under very difficult circumstances, they were truly amazing.

While today was not our best day as a school district, we will use what we learned to be better in the future. 

Thank you again for the way that you and your students handled all of this, and we look forward hopefully to a normal school day tomorrow.

Students and parents said Friday that they hope the people responsible are held accountable and the district improves these situations in the future.

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